Re: Foucault and 'the starving millions'

Oct 24, 1994

In reply to Ken McPhail's concern about Foucault, Derrida, Heidegger
and Nietzsche's professed idealism, I think it is unfair to Foucault to
assume he is an idealist. If you read 'Discipline and Punish' or "The
History of SExuality, v. 1" it is clear that Foucault is some kind of
historical materialist. But where he parts company with mARX IS THAT
he thinks that power, rather than material interests per se, is the moving
cause of history, and that what Marxists think of as "ideology" is really
a socalled "scientific" discourse in which researchers create the "objects"
of knowledge by a combination of categories (like sane/mad, criminal mind,
delinquent, et) and material disciplinary practices that create the very
subjectivities they claim to discover. Further, those researchers who
represent the bourgeois class actually create a new sense of their own
interests through the categories of sexology, reproduction and demography
(Malthus) etc, so rather than the ideological categories mirroring the
underyling economic interests, part of what comes to be thought of as the
material interests of this class is invented by its own categories of
human sexuality and the discipline (psychoan) it creates to discipline
its body with! Foucault is not saying that all aspects of the material
world are created by discourses as would an idealist: rather, he is saying
that if we do a genealogical history of where and how this "scientific"
discourses arose, we will see that they occur through a potpourri of
ignoble motives, accidental material practices (e.g. confinement for
criminals, beggars, etc.) that come to be seen to serve economic
interests of developing capitalism, part of which might be seen as
defined through the structure of a capitalist market system, but the rest
of which "interests" are themselves socially constructed through the
"power/knowledges" that somewhat haphazaardly come to dominate.

In short, Foucault's posst-structuralism is a much more
complicated theory than a simple materialism/idealism dicotomy captures!

Ann Ferguson
UCI, Irvine CA 92717-4555
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